Are Your ‘Connecting’ Skills Costing You?
If you can connect easily with others, it can drive you further than most anything else in your career, personal relationships and making your dreams happen. The problem is, most of us aren’t great at it.
As adults, we’re still using poor communication skills we picked up as little kids from our interactions with parents, siblings and others, according to neuroscientist Andrew Newberg and coach Mark Waldman, authors of Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy.
To be most effective, we need to know how to connect with others brain-to-brain–whether it’s with clients, bosses, peers, spouses, children and friends, or with loan officers, venture capitalists and potential business partners. And this is not easy to do if we have bad habits ingrained.
Here are 4 tips for both speaking and listening to help you create a stronger connection with anyone you meet:
1. Actively listen.
Business mentor Allison Maslan, of Allison Maslan International in San Diego, shared a personal story of going out with a realtor to look for houses. Instead of trying to learn all about Maslan and her husband’s needs, the realtor spent most of the time bragging about her prior sales, which cost her their business.
Granted, that’s the opposite of listening (and very poor sales skills). What we typically do, as Steven Covey, author of the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People once said, is listen with the intent to reply instead of the intent to understand.
Rather, we need to do what’s called ‘active listening.’ Beside the usual advice of making eye contact, turning toward the person you’re speaking with and nodding, try to understand the feeling behind their words and what they want. Watch for nonverbal cues in their facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. “Research shows that the more deeply we listen, the more our brain will mirror the activity in the other person’s brain,” say Newberg and Waldman. This helps us bond and connect.
Too often, we’re worried about what we’re going to say next; we’re so afraid of an awkward silence. But let go of any urge to interrupt in an effort to get your points in. Instead, listen so carefully that you can paraphrase back the the person what they’ve just said. Not only does that give you something to say when they’ve finished talking (voila, no awkward silence), but it gives them a chance to elaborate and help you understand even better.
2. Do a 60-second de-stress.
Before any important conversation with a client, boss, partner, friend, child’s teacher or anyone else, take a few moments ahead to get relaxed. Spontaneous speaking is a bad idea in most situations, the authors say. And if you happen to start off stressed, it shuts down your ability to effectively communicate. Try a 60-second de-stressing exercise that lights up four key areas in your brain, according to the authors. First, relax. For 30 seconds, breathe in slowly to the count of five, and repeat three times. Now try and make yourself yawn a few times (believe it or not, yawning is one of the best tools for reducing anger, anxiety and stress, and enhancing awareness, alertness, relaxation and connection). Next, get present, and access a pleasant memory. This will help you feel calm, cooperative and empathetic. What’s more, it’s contagious, so others will feel more open to your ideas.
3. Try the 30-second rule.
In business, time is money and brevity is valued. It just so happens that brevity is also the best way to get someone to hear what you say. Our memories only hold 30-second blips of info, say Newberg and Waldman. So never try to get everything out at once, even if you feel the need to explain your point. Speak for no more than 30 seconds and then pause—like a comedian does after a joke. It’s in that pause that the info sinks in. If you’re long-winded, the other person’s brain will only pick up a small chunk of what you said and it may not be the one you wanted to convey. So remember: Short and sweet. (This one is hard for those of us—*ahem*—who are Wordy Gertys).
4. Speak slowly and warmly (yes, warmly).
This relaxes your listener and tones down your emotions while helping you choose the best words. Newberg and Waldman also suggest that you express appreciation in some way, but it must be genuine. That said, if you’ve done the 60-second de-stress and accessed a pleasant memory, you’re ready to speak with the type of presence and thoughtfulness that leads to connection. It brings to mind a Kevin Bacon line from the movie He Said, She Said: “I feel warmly towards you.” But this is a good emotion to elicit from people in business and life.
It’s all about having the person you’re talking with feel like you ‘get’ them, and communicating in such a way that people get you. If you’ve ever watched Oprah (of course you have), she makes everyone feel like she’s their best friend. She genuinely tries to understand where someone is coming from, and she radiates a natural warmth.
As often as this is repeated everywhere, it’s not easy to remember: Always focus outward, rather than on yourself in a conversation so you can pick up cues about who someone is and what they truly want. If you understand what makes a boss or client or friend beam with excitement as well as what keeps them up at night, conversations are more meaningful, memorable, and possibly lucrative.
Have any communication tips (or communication horror stories) to share? We’d love to hear from you below.
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